“A nod to the past and an eye to the future…”
Welcome to The National Exchange Hotel in Nevada City, California. You’ve just checked into one of the oldest hotels in America. If the ornate velvet walls of this place could talk, there’d be enough material to produce the next big Netflix docuseries. Stories about famous guests like Mark Twain and Black Bart swimming in the mountain spring-fed pool in the courtyard, the legendary lore of gold-hungry hopefuls exchanging their finds in the tunnels beneath the lobby floorboards, and presidents like Hebert Hoover and Ulysses S. Grant enjoying a stiff pour in the hotel bar.
This three-story, 40-room hotel hasn’t changed much since opening day in August 1856. Garnering the title as “Oldest Operating Hotel West of Mississippi” The National has hosted hundreds of thousands of travelers and locals alike for more than 150 years. That being said, the space was more than ready for some renovations. This is where our preservation hero, Nevada City native Jordan Fife comes into the story.
After leaving to conquer the world, the road looped Jordan back to town carrying his bag of prestigious design accolades over his shoulder. Equipped with the necessary financial backing and personal connection to the hotel, Jordan is ready to breathe new life The National in a time-honored way.
“My wife and I grew up running through the halls of The National as kids,” explains Jordan. “Returning to the hotel now and walking across the creaky floors, up the slightly tilted lobby staircase, and getting lost in all the wild wallpaper, (so much wallpaper…) still leaves me with goosebumps every single time. And that’s just one of my memories from this place. Every local has a few good handfuls themselves!”
That’s why it’s so important that get this restoration right.
Not only is the hotel significant to the Nevada City community it’s also protected as a National Historic Landmark. Understanding that there are many rules to obey with a delicate restoration of The National, Jordan invited the Historical Society to visit the hotel to help determine what could go and stay. Afterward, he invited the 3,000 community members inside for the chance to purchase select items of the hotel that could not be saved for a very small price.
“When we had the inventory sale, folks would grab my arm and hardly take a breather as they tried to spill out every detailed memory they had of the place,” shares Jordan. “One couple took me to the room where they got engaged and even showed me where they had hidden the ring box behind a brick over the fireplace! Their story inspired me to want to turn that room into a honeymoon suite, respectfully.”
Jordan believes that the personality and charm of the property come out in its quirky ways. He insisted on keeping that previously mentioned leaning staircase (which will be reinforced but still be allowed to lean), recreating some of the original wallpaper, the dinged wainscoting, the original brass fixtures, and knobs, as well as the original transoms above the doors. The idea is to enhance those cherished flaws – not glossing over them.
“When The National was built more than 150 years ago, it was to be one of the best hotels in the west and reflected the best of service and design of its period,” says Jordan. “It was also completed without electricity or running water! Those amenities have since been added over the years. The new National will be designed to reflect the original Victorian style with modern influences with a 1920’s gentleman club feel – think tufted leather, oil paintings, taxidermy, built in bookcases with brass rolling ladders, and slightly ominous feel as a nod to the hotels haunted past .”
Speaking of amenities, Jordan is also establishing brand partnerships to offer guests American Made goods. The folks of Juniper Ridge are in the process of creating the scents of the in-room products while Iron and Resin will cater to guests and community downstairs with a full retail flagship store and gift shop.
Similiar to the hotel, the Nevada City community has done an incredible job holding tightly to its roots as a well-persevered testimony to its history contributing to its spot on Architectural Digest’s “The Best Main Streets in America”.) The downtown area is also registered as a National Historic Landmark. Locals say that if not for the parking meters you’d swear you just time traveled!
Jordan wants people to see Nevada City, not just as a travel destination, but a place of fellowship between locals and visitors when the hotel is complete. It’s close proximity to Sacramento, Tahoe National Forest, and the Sierras makes it the ideal weekend destination for Two Lane travelers.
The grand-reopening of The National will mean not only circulating money through local restaurants and shops but also into the pockets of skilled laborers like craftsmen, electricians, farmers for kitchen produce, receptionists, and an extra salty bartender to help keep the hotel operating smoothly.
“The heart of the entire project is still for the benefit of Nevada City citizens,” says Jordan. “I know I speak for everyone here when I say that there’s such value in preserving The National as part of California’s state history. We’re excited for folks to check in, drop their bags, and allow us to show them the best we have to offer. It’s incredible to think how a place can hold memories for more than 150 years and still have room for more!”
Follow the progress of The National Exchange Hotel on Instagram
Go behind the scenes of the build with Jordan on his personal Instagram
Photos by Ingrid Nelson